Judge Bill Gibron reviews this inconsequential live album from an inconsequential '80s/'90s hair band.
Maybe it's time for some silent lucidity from this once important '80s metal band.
What does it say about the state of music in 2004 that so many meaningless bands from past decades are finding a wealth of warm receptions on the comeback/reunion circuit? Tune in to VH-1 Classics some day and you'll see ads for Styx (minus Dennis DeYoung), Journey (sans Steve Perry), and about a dozen other incomplete pseudo-chart toppers that are canvassing the country, trying for one last lap at the rock and roll fortune fountain. But do we really need an aging retread of ELO (called Electric Light Orchestra: Part 2) that features the drummer as its only surviving member? How about a King Crimson lineup that changes its makeup about as often as Little Kim reinvents herself? Heck, there's even a Doors retread ruining the memory of the original rock pioneers by having imposters perform like their once-dead iconographic leader.
Then there are those cases in which the original members of the group have settled their artistic gripes (which translates into "all the money problems are over with") and decide to soldier on to the beat of a new, post-millennial digital rhythm. Such is the situation with Queensrÿche. Once a darling of the doomed generation, these experimental rockers liked to mix music with message for what some might consider "thinking man's metal." Many may have thought that they had merely faded into obscurity. But in 2003, minus a vital member of the group, the call of the amphitheater was too great. With a new album to promote, it was time for another tour. And, lucky us, we get a video document of this decision, the just released DVD Queensrÿche: The Art of Live.
Queensrÿche: The Art of Live is an odd entry into the concert souvenir sweepstakes. Culled from performances on the band's Summer 2003 tour co-headlining with Dream Theater, this is a basic, barebones performance piece that attempts to address all aspects of the band's career. For diehard fans, there is no such thing as too little Queensrÿche, so this DVD package will find a place among their other musical memorabilia. But for the casual aficionado—someone who could take or leave this once popular video stalwart—there is very little here to hang your hopes on.
Queensrÿche has gone through some minor personnel shifts (original guitarist and founding member Chris DeGarmo left the band after 17 years) and, as a result, the focus of this show is on the more modern, world music version of the band. A good half of The Art of Live is made up of tracks from the 2003 album Tribe and, while quite good, some long time metalheads will find the lack of classics from Operation: Mindcrime and Empire a real sham shame. Still, songs like "Open" and "The Great Divide" show maturity and the mixing of other cultural and traditional influences, indicating that the group is not content to rest on its laurels. But unless you have followed Queensrÿche over the course of their career, picking up this disc and hearing the Middle Eastern flavor in "Tribe" or "Desert Dance" will be a tad unnerving. While always known as innovators in the world of hard rock, famous for taking the more progressive (prog) way out of the wango tango, this drastic departure may be too much.
So will the scattershot approach to the past. While most groups are only looking to grope a little bygone glory out of the standard rock tour, Queensrÿche is far more measured in their set list response. Of the 13 songs, there is representation from six albums, from 1984's The Warning ("Roads to Madness") through Hear in the Now Frontier (1987's "Sign of the Times") and 1994's Promised Land ("My Global Mind"). But when it comes to the classics, the albums that made this band the MTV staple and stadium sellout, we are treated to some rather odd song selection. Operation: Mindcrime (already given the complete concert treatment via Operation: LIVECrime) is not represented by either of its singles ("I Don't Believe in Love," "Eyes of a Stranger"); instead, we get the weaker "Breaking the Silence" and "The Needle Lies." The 1990 success story, Empire, is undermined by the lack of "Silent Lucidity," the infamous track that made the band worldwide media darlings. For some, "Silent Lucidity" may be the only Queensrÿche they know, and its substitution with lesser tracks ("Best I Can," "Della Brown") can only mean one thing: the band is more in tune with its own needs (constantly growing onstage, avoiding a "greatest hits" style tour) than what fans want. Even the encores are self-indulgent. Instead of banging out the hits, Queensrÿche gets co-headliners Dream Theater onstage for a couple of rote retreads of classic covers (Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" and The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again"). While the musicianship and performances are top-notch, and many of the songs still resonate with the power and polish of a truly talented band playing at the peak of their skills, the focus on the present catalog means that old-time listeners may feel somewhat lost.
The final flaws with this DVD go directly to its packaging and presentation. Someone made the rather insipid choice of casting the entire concert in a sepia-tone newsreel mode (complete with scratches and sprocket shifts) instead of letting the rock-show color scheme show through. This dusty, dirty look does not serve the visuals, and all detail is drained away in the process (poor Mike Stone—most of his intricate tattoos are faded or generally invisible in this archival nonsense). And to top matters off, the image is a 1.33:1, shot-by-the-crew full-screen farce which concentrates far too much on medium and close-up shots and never allows us to see the entire band playing at one time. Another dismal display feature is the lack of a 5.1 soundtrack. While the packaging says one is included, all we get is a Dolby Digital 2.0 aural presence that really rocks, but offers no authentic middle row concert immersion. The reason for the missing piece of sonic specialness is never explained (lead singer Geoff Tate even assures fans there will be a "5.1" in his backstage interview footage) and its lack of inclusion is fatal to this set. A concert DVD is only as good as its sound, and without the ability to feel like part of the show while seated in your home theater, The Art of Live really has no technological attraction.
Even the bonuses are rather boring. We get some behind-the-scenes material that includes the added attraction of hearing Tate talk over the footage (this is the "interview" the back of the package proclaims). As the typical shots of the band moving from hotel to car to radio station to stage play in the background, Tate occasionally breaks in to explain or expound on something that is happening. He is a genuinely decent guy and his anecdotes are usually pretty good. But the meandering nature of the backstage glimpses (including radio station acoustic versions of the same song three separate times) means the final product is pretty paltry. The photo album is also a mistake, since the colorful vibrancy of the onstage shots makes you pine for a less monochromatic picture in the actual film footage.
When the book of great rock acts is finally written, Queensrÿche may garner a mention or two—perhaps as a footnote, or an example of talent and tenacity finally breaking through. But without a hint of what made the band so hit-parade popular once upon a time, The Art of Live is merely a good, if none too grand, performance film. The playing is precise and the music sufficiently moving, but there is nothing hinting at even the basic levels of the band's so-called greatness. Queensrÿche are perhaps destined to be a hardworking, underappreciated specialty act, always able to tour and make a decent career even when they don't live up to their fans' expectations. But The Art of Live shows that pandering to your public once in a while just might be necessary to keep your rock dreams afloat.
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